Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flood-Plain Decisions Localized

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flood-Plain Decisions Localized

Article excerpt

Individual communities, not the federal government, will determine which flood victims move to higher ground and which ones can rebuild on flood plains.

That policy, says a top federal flood official, is the most practical and cost-effective way to handle the aftermath of the century's biggest flood, which forced at least 15,000 families out of their homes.

"The communities need to decide what's in the best interests of their communities - not us, not FEMA," said James Taylor, assistant administrator for the federal flood insurance program, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In a teleconference Thursday with about a dozen Midwestern reporters, Taylor conceded that local "best interests" may run counter to the federal goal of clearing out flood plains to reduce property damage and to protect lives during future floods.

Community-based decisions already are resulting in rebuilding policies that differ from town to town and county to county. Taylor said he also was aware that, for local officials, "the heat is there" to allow as much rebuilding as possible on flood plains.

But he contended that the federal decision to take a back seat is prompted by financial reality, not political pressure. "We can't move everybody out of the flood plain at once," he said. "It's not viable."

Taylor said that only 25 percent of the victims had flood insurance. Those will be the first ones offered any federal buyouts. Taylor said the federal government lacks the money to pay for buyouts for all of the insured flood victims who may want them.

This week, at least three area jurisdictions have announced their rebuilding policies. In two cases, the policies will make it easier for flood victims to remain on the flood plains:

Chesterfield and St. Charles County will use the more lenient "replacement-value" test, not market value, in determining whether a flooded business or home can be rebuilt without being raised on stilts or mounds.

St. Louis County is keeping the "market-value" test, which County Executive George R. "Buzz" Westfall concedes will block more victims from returning to their homes.

Both options are acceptable, federal officials say. …

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